DIXFIELD — Police said they have identified three suspects who they believe stole $1,200 in cash and priceless birth, marriage and baptism records from the Dixfield Congregational Church.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dixfield police Sgt. Jeff Howe said tips from community members helped police tie one primary suspect — and at least two accomplices — to the weekend break-in.
"Things have fallen together pretty quickly today with info and leads from citizens," said Howe, who plans to question the suspects soon. Since no arrests have been made, Howe did not release the suspects' names.
Police are also prepared to use DNA evidence found at the scene to identify those responsible for the crime, Howe said.
"We found a little bit of blood on the scene. So we can use that DNA profile if necessary for prosecutions," Howe said.
While police are honing in on the three suspects, parishioners at the Dixfield Congregational Church are still trying to make sense of the break-in.
"They hurt from it," the Rev. John Gensel said Tuesday. "They feel violated, like it was their own home that was broken into."
Church officials believe the burglary occurred between 9 p.m. Sunday, when the weekly Bible study ended, and early Monday afternoon. The burglary was reported to police at 1:20 p.m. Monday.
The vandals appear to have entered the church through a rear door, and accessed the church's valuables by destroying the door to Gensel's office. Police said they believe at least two people were involved in the break-in, given the weight of a 1.5-foot by 2-foot safe that was stolen.
Inside the safe was more than $300 for the parish LOVE Fund, used to benefit people in need or crisis. Also stolen were the church's records of birth, death, marriage, and baptism dating back to the nineteenth century, Gensel said.
Burglars also stole a large water jug filled with a decade's worth of collected coins. That money, which Gensel said amounted to $800, would have been used for children's programs.
While the items stolen from the church don't amount to a major financial loss, the psychological toll of the burglary has been much more costly, Gensel said.
"These people will take this money and use it very quickly, and the papers will have very little significance to them at all, and yet it impacts so many lives," Gensel said. "It was an 'aha' moment to experience this."
In the coming days and weeks, Gensel and his parish plan to heal by forgiving those who trespassed against them — and by beefing up church security.
"Something that helps me heal from this is to forgive but remember," Gensel said. "The remembrance of it will have to do with what we do to prevent this again from happening."